Editor's Note: The story you are about to read is about a mother and her fierce and unwavering love for her son. The decision to post it during Christmas week was a thoughtful one. Here is a mother who, despite having the ultimate tragedy thrown her way, remains one of the most joyful people I have ever met. Her love for her son moves mountains, and that devotion and passion has translated into her work and the projects she has taken on in his memory. There is no Q&A at the end of this profile because their story is enough. What you will find are links to where you can donate to her amazing organizations and their fun, spirited events; and also sign-up for the national bone marrow registry, which I assure you is so easy to do and so…so important. Thank you for reading, and have a happy, joyful holiday.
Hunter Zen Thawley was born into love.
"Sometimes, when I think of the fact that I only had 3 years with him, I start to question whether I should have done things differently," his mom told me.
Oh Lenore, I thought to myself. The life you gave Hunter? It was MAGIC.
The first son of Lenore and Zen, Hunter was brought into the world on a perfect September day.
They decided on the name Hunter because it felt powerful. His middle name, Zen, was a tribute to his father and described him perfectly.
Lenore and Zen worked together, Zen was a photographer and Lenore was a makeup artist. Hunter was their sidekick, strapped to his momma’s back every single day.
Wow, was he lucky, I thought. For the three short years he had on this earth, his family was never apart, and he was exactly where he wanted to be.
His first fourteen months were a dream. He witnessed his parents unwavering love for each other on their wedding day and hit all his first-year milestones. He took his first steps, he was constantly laughing, the whole world would stop when he started dancing, and this boy knew how to dance!
There was nothing…absolutely nothing…that gave his parents any cause for concern.
Lenore and Zen went back and forth to the pediatrician, trying to pinpoint the sudden and drastic change in their child. For weeks the doctors couldn’t determine why Hunter was so ill, thinking he might have stomach flu or some other seasonal virus.
Hunter was admitted to a local hospital in Los Angeles and they immediately dove right in taking blood, x-rays, scans, the works. Hunter, who was only a little over a year at the time, didn’t fight any of it, he was too weak.
After nearly two weeks of testing, the doctors had found what was causing Hunter’s severe symptoms, Acute Myeloid Leukemia that was living in his bone marrow.
For three months they lived in the hospital, alternating sleeping with him every night, with doctors and nurses coming in every two hours to monitor their child.
When they finally were allowed to go home, they had to bounce back and forth from the hospital to their home, administering chemo that would break down his body to kill the cancerous cells. They had to do this over and over again, breaking down his tiny body, only to build it back up again so they could administer another round of chemo with new cancer-fighting drugs.
It was a grueling, torturous process. The constant blood draws with needles, Lenore said, were necessary, but at some point his tiny veins couldn’t take it anymore.
Lenore, like her son, has a light that radiates from within. She says that this is how she coped, she made it her mission to fill his days with as much wonder and beauty as possible.
Hunter felt this energy emanating from his parents. He would look at them deeply, observing them and drawing strength and calmness from them. In fact, when strangers would meet Hunter for the first time they would almost always mention that Hunter was an “old soul”. It’s almost as if he knew what he was up against, and was willing to fight.
Eight months later, after six rounds of chemo, there was no sign of cancer in Hunter’s body and he was considered in remission and “cancer-free.” Lenore and Zen were able to take a breath and regroup, and decided they were ready for a fresh start and would move their family from their home in Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.
When it became clear his fevers weren’t subsiding, their pediatrician decided to do additional tests which found that the cancer had come back. The family moved into Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, setting up camp for another fight for Hunter’s life.
Hunter endured even more rounds of chemo, one of which was experimental. He went through several blood transfusions and total body irradiation. And finally, he went through a bone marrow transplant. He was only two years old.
After two and a half years of fiercely fighting this horrific disease, Hunter’s battle ended.
His final moments were just as beautiful as when he was brought into this world.
His mother, who held him as he took his first breath, held him as he took his last. His parents bathed him, they talked to him, they held him close for the entire night. Just like the three beautiful years he was given by his parents on earth, he was never, ever alone.
Lenore was also grappling with the fact that she was four months pregnant, and as any parent knows, was already completely overwhelmed with bringing another child into this world even without the trauma she had just endured.
It was their opportunity, Lenore says, to start a family again and simply ‘see where it goes’.
They also relied deeply on each other, strengthening their marriage through the tragedy and not letting it draw them apart.
As life continued marching on, Lenore and Zen, completely in love with their new baby and coping amidst a deep sea of grief, started realizing that anniversaries of Hunter—his birthday, his death, and so on—we’re looming.
And so, the Healing Hunter Foundation was born. Their first year, they brought toys to the hospital that treated Hunter. When the community caught wind of their project they rallied around them, sending donations and gift certificates and toys upon toys upon toys. Quickly, Lenore realized that this foundation had the potential to become so much more.
Lenore found herself making several trips back to the hospital throughout the year; Easter, Christmas, Hunter’s Birthday, and her donation pile continued to grow.
At one point, she decided to throw in a treat for the doctors and nurses, homemade cupcakes.
Their cupcake shop, aptly named “Lightning Cupcakes” after Hunter’s passionate love for Lightning McQueen from the movie Cars, took off. Phone calls started coming in with even more requests for more cupcakes. There was this whole little world forming, Lenore says, all around Hunter.
On Hunter’s birthday that year, Lenore did something she could have never imagined—she filed to make Lightning Cupcakes and The Healing Hunter Foundation official, a perfect birthday gift, she says, for her little man.
Since then, Lenore’s two professional passions have made incredible strides.
On Hunter’s birthday every year, every child battling cancer admitted into the two local children’s hospitals receives an iPad Mini. This past fall, Hunter’s 5-star cupcakery made cupcakes pro-bono for another cancer fighter’s memorial service. And every Christmas, she and her team turn the children’s Oncology Unit of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital into a magical place, with over-the-top decorations, “santa sack” gift-bags, and a momentary distraction from their brave and courageous fight.
To continue spreading Hunter’s love, please consider the following:
PURCHASE cupcakes from Lightning Cupcakes, if you are in the Portland area.
SIGN-UP for the National Bone Marrow Registry
Next week, on DRIVEN for Women, remember our very first profile with Leila, the A-List Celebrity Stylist? Remember the boss she mentioned, that fired her and subsequently changed her career? Well, we've done our due diligence and interviewed her to get her side of the story on the "dreaded incident." Oh, and did we mentioned that she is also the Editorial Director of Tommy Hilfiger? Meet Kim Friday, she's up next on DRIVEN for Women.
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